What makes a Christian a Christian?

By Stephanie Ismer

What makes a Christian a Christian? This is a question that is both very simple and very difficult to answer. According to the Bible, there is only one thing that makes a person a Christian, and that is faith in Jesus Christ. But what does that mean? Does it mean just saying "I believe" or praying a prayer? Or is there more to it?

The book of Romans goes step by step through what salvation means. The beginning chapters talk about sin, and the penalty for sin (death, hell) and the fact that everyone is sinful. Chapters 4 and 5 talk about how we are justified by faith alone, and how salvation (getting to heaven) is not a result of our works, or our good deeds, but it is based on God's power to save us. It also mentions the Law (all of God's rules for our lives) and how the purpose of the law was to show us that we cannot follow the law, and that we are all sinful, that is "fallen short of the glory of God."

Why would God go to such lengths to prove how sinful we are?

Let's say you had a deadly disease that had no symptoms but would suddenly kill you 6 months from now. During your regular checkup, your family physician (a brilliant man) realizes that you are suffering from this insidious illness. He knows that the news will upset you but he also knows that he has a cure for your illness. Now, it wouldn't make any sense to tell you about the cure without first telling you about the illness. In the same way, God created the law to show us our sin so that we would realize the danger we are in and believe in Christ for our salvation.

Jesus takes the punishment for our sins. In the Old Testament, the Law was given and a sacrifice was provided. In the New Testament, the Law was upheld, clarified and expanded by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and then fulfilled. Those who believe that this fulfillment of the Law is applied by God's grace, through faith, to their own lives and to the debt of sin they owe are called Christians.

Now what? Romans 6 and 7 get deeper into the reality of what a Christian is.

A mysterious thing happens when a person becomes a Christian. Something dies and is replaced with something else. We are still ourselves, walking, talking, going to work, feeding our pets. But something intimately connected with our being has been lost. Look at Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
So, something called "I" has been crucified with Christ, but we are still living a life here on earth, by faith in Him. Where did that crucified part of us go?
For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Colossians 3:3-4
The part of us that dies is what we refer to as "the old man." And in Romans Chapter 7, Paul tells us about the reality of our life now, as Christians. A battle is going on in us all the time. The "old self" and the body (he calls it the flesh) were really good friends, and when the "old self" was crucified with Christ (by faith), a "new man" arrived (this is the life we now live in the flesh, by faith). God calls this being "born again" (John 3) or becoming a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). But this "new man" and the flesh do not get along. They are always at war. The flesh wants to sin. But the new man wants to please God. So, we have this conflict inside us. This is totally normal for a Christian — if you read Romans chapter 7 you will see how even Paul struggled with it.

We can win the spiritual battles we fight by "walking in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16). Walking in the Spirit means we follow Him, and we are submissive to Him as He works to change us into His image. We say to God "You are right, I am wrong." We agree with what the Bible says about us and about life. We pray, we ask for guidance. What we don't do is try to be better people by sheer force of will. Of course, as Christians, we want to be better people. We want to be like Christ. But we also know we can't do it. So we ask Him to change us by His Spirit.

Now, all that said, what makes a Christian a Christian?

A Christian sees and acknowledges the existence of God and His right to rule.

A Christian is convicted by the words of the Bible. He sees that he can never live up to the standard God has put in place.

A Christian accepts the reality that his deeds deserve death, and that without God's intervention, he will be lost eternally.

A Christian takes great joy in the fact that Jesus Christ has taken the punishment for sin and has opened his way to Heaven.

A Christian believes that Jesus' sacrificial death applies personally and completely to his debt of sin. A Christians obey the Lord, not out of a desire to save themselves (that has already been accomplished on the cross) but because the "new self" desires to obey.

A Christian will have peace in doing what's right — following Him, even when it hurts.

A Christian is not a person that does everything right all the time, but a Christian is a person who desires what God desires.

A Christian is not a person that wins every battle against sin, but is instead a person who will keep on fighting.

Luke 14:26 says "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." This may sound harsh, but what Jesus means by "hate" is that following Him must be absolutely FIRST in your life — even if it means turning away from your family. This is very sad when it happens, but it is a good example of the absolute devotion that a true Christian has to Jesus Christ.

If you realize that you don't feel that kind of devotion to Him, just ask Him to change your heart so that you are devoted to Him. God will give us anything and everything we need to do His will, to obey Him, and to love Him (John 14:14). We tend to ask for things like health or wealth or success, but the true treasures are things that help us fight the battle (faith, salvation, righteousness, truth (Ephesians 6)) and the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control (Galatians 5)).

Image Credit: Bob AuBuchon; "A Cross"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Salvation  | Biblical-Truth

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Published 12-05-02; Revised 15-10-22